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The Temple of the Worm

By Glenn Winkelmann Jr. All Rights Reserved ©


Coming Home

The dim rays of a thin waning moon cast lonesome shadows that stretched across the sleeping valley. A lurid discoloration of the landscape mounted under an overcast which swept a chill wind past the procession of lanterns crawling up the forested trail toward the frost capped mountain. Among the throngs of robed figures I crept in a waxen mask and ornate gloves that gave me the genuine appearance of being one of them, so that my infiltration went entirely unnoticed. I copied their gait and aspect perfectly so that no suspicion was aroused.

Ahead of me I could see the more advanced were bipedal and lumbering, while others still were leaping incessantly on all fours. I was wholly fearful of my company, but confident still in my plan of action to find her. Upon the arrival of yuletide this insidious group of revenants would invite themselves to supplicate to the festive gods of undulating horror they worshiped. Intercepting their summons, I converged upon the group in the town streets, and followed them presently to the mountain. Emotionally and physically I had prepared for whatever horror may lie dormant in the porous caverns they were leading me to, and upon completion of my tasks, I was sure all of the esoteric hideousness in that vaulted catacomb of festivity would be eradicated from the nightmares in the town adjacent.

A convergence began ahead of me where the group focused into a stone aperture, built into the hollow of an enormous oak tree. A number of the procession began to disappear at this point, and it was at the summit of my descent that I was accosted by some hideous odors of strange incense and sulfur. It was overwhelming me and, try as I might, I could not withstand the urge to clear my lungs of the foul air. I released a cough which, to my dismay, caused a mass cessation of our progression. The lanterns were immediately snuffed around me and, with a mind of the birds, that sinuous gathering of night-terrors converged to apprehend me at once. Panic overtook me, and a failure to detonate the explosive packages I had strapped to my body lead to a delirious spell of anxiety. As I ran in stark horror from them I realized I could not discern a single sound, not of their footsteps, nor of any current of wind or physical activity.

There was not a reverberation, nor a splash or patter from the downpour, or a howl from the gusting winds which spun their cloaks around madly. The focus of my attention was upon the cowled supplicant gaining upon me first, it's painted eyes reverberate with the inky blackness of the void. The subtle twitching of it's neck and head towards the left repeatedly increased in speed as it drew closer. It was then that a disembodied voice, hailing from the depths themselves, shattered the placid reticence and betrayed my sanity. It must have said more, but the first utterance was enough to rob me of my consciousness:

“Now we have… both.

As I recall, Clara and I were unaware that despite it's luxury and preservation of all things antique and quaint, the town of Camille housed a cult which held a particular veneration for the deceased. In our private cabin we retired often to seclude ourselves from the offensive torment of society. Our attendance to the subtle nuances of nature, and introspective conversation cultured in us a lasting bond, one more than marriage and love could provide alone. After a few years the events began to unfold, one by one, that led to a chaotic siege of our residence. The last winter here, under the cool rays of a thinly waning moon, was when we first heard the flutes. Piping from the abyss of the forest around us were the feeble notes which grew louder in a chorus that threatened to deafen us. The cacophony of dreadful melodies sounded fiendish in design as from the lungs of nameless, despondent creatures.

The wind carried the piping’s southward towards the town of Camille which, as their tradition dictates, would react with immediacy. Lights in their windows would swiftly be snuffed out; curtains would diminish the silhouettes of reading men or playing children; the bells would toll in all the churches; the electric street lights would cease immediately, and the dogs would howl and roar until their muzzles could be fitted. Our distance from the populace meant we paid no adherence to their custom, for our light's would blaze and our laughter would rend an unnerving contrast to the pathos around us. I am sure we caught the attention of those whose notes would chill even the winter's night.

Clara would paint surreal dream-spaces that illustrated the suggestion of nightmarish haunts, or vistas of ulterior architecture of star bound civilizations while I, rested in our study beside the fireplace mantle, would strike out passages and narratives upon my typewriter. For many years we lived in creative duality and complimented each other. Occasionally we switched roles: I practiced my hand at the brush whilst she studied the finer theories of written expression.

One evening, a few months ago, her auburn hair was lit fiery in the lantern light upon our porch. We were watching with worried anticipation upon the hills where, between all the trees, were the descending lights of some unknown figures. A stolen glimpse of a hood here, and limb there, would help to identify that their numbers were incalculable, and that they moved with alarming haste.

Preceding their imminent arrival were howls of an inhuman aesthetic resonating from all directions. It was upon that night that our humble existence was transformed into violent pandemonium as our cabin was besieged by a throng of chanting celebrants. I threw Clara inside and screamed her under the sofa as, in a panic, I threw any shelving into the windows and bolted every door I could remember had one. In a blink I had violently kicked in a table leg and grabbed it's longest piece for protection, and roaring with dominance, threw multiple lanterns and candles out the window panes to ignite anything it would land upon. The chanting did not cease as any means of ingress was tried, and soon violent batterings upon all surfaces sounded the whole of our cabin like a deep war drum. Entrance was soon made, and I struck one of the advancing figures with ease. The waxen mask was dislodged from what should have been its head but, instead, revealed a void of vacant space. I do not recall fainting, but I awoke in confusion and startled panic some time later in the bed of a hospital renowned in Camille. The nurses spoke to me kindly, but when I inquired about the whereabouts of my wife she only shook her head in resigned ignorance. It took a group of orderlies to restrain me to my bed as I spat and roared my pledge to return to the forests and find those responsible.

My predicament became startling clear as I wrestled to consciousness: I was locked to a dank stone wall by rusted chain, and my surroundings were decrepit. In utter darkness I hung, save for the dim wick of a lantern fixed to a sinewy rope that bobbed in the freezing subterranean air. As I gradually relaxed myself and adjusted to the chamber I began to analyze it more clearly. There was blood or rust caked into the walls, and the domed ceiling of marble dripped with an opalescent liquid. It took me long to ascertain that directly ahead of me was an altar of black stone over which the lantern circled in suspension. In the foreground were iron bars flanked by pillars of an unsettlingly ancient architecture. Out of my immediate surroundings I could place no sound, again, and I fear deafness had somehow placed hold over me.

I was completely unclothed and robbed of my apparatus and disguise. It took ages for the scene of my torment to change, and as the days rolled on I grew famished and delirious, drifting in and out of increasingly nightmarish dream. My attempts to escape had dislodged the bones of my wrists from my hands and, resigning to my presumed death, I began to pray for the duration of my sparse waking moments.

When they entered the dungeon I cannot recall. I awoke to the clattering of equipment and the installation of shelving in my prison. Around me were figures of a frighteningly monstrous design: stretched gray skin hugged tightly to withering or entirely dislodged bones and eyeless sockets of blackness stared upon me. They were hideously extended, so that their nearly eight foot tall frames brushed the ceiling, and gnarled fingers clutched violently to scrolls that only legend spake of. The altar, previously unoccupied, now housed a thin corpse which was wrapped in embroidered velvet. The rigid cadaver was bathed in salts, flanked by recently lit candles.

The lantern in suspension was replaced by sigil of antiquity which chilled my very soul upon recollection of it's meaning. The cabalistic reverence of the corpse by these necromantic blasphemers was impossible for me to bear for, in a ritual of their traditions, they began to read in the most hollow and gelatinous of voices from the literature they possessed. The room grew colder than any winter I felt, and the previously absent flutes began to besiege us in a hurried chorus of broken notes. Their eyes flexed in unnameable expressions of contempt as words began to pour outward, revealing to me their desire to return the corpse upon the altar as a mockery against the living.

I screamed in protest and crept backward up the wall as the stirring motions of that carrion thingbegan to part the velvet. It rose up to survey the room, rotting and degenerate, and cried out. Upon that moment a gale of wind swept in from the ducts, and dispersed what remained of her auburn hair into the air.

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